On Saturday night, the Oakland Raiders emerged victorious for the first time in the 2012 preseason. Certainly the Raider Nation is happy to see a wining effort, but it is more so the finer points of the game and individual performances that can be looked at with significance, rather than the score at the end of the game. Having said that, here are some thoughts and notes in analyzing the Raiders’ 31-20 win over the Detroit Lions.
- Much has been made about the new defensive scheme being implemented under the watch of Head Coach Dennis Allen, and Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver. Despite the likely vanilla play calling in preseason games, the defense has both a different look at feel to it already. The multiplicity is evident in the use of different formations, zones and blitz packages. Despite the fact that Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford left the game in the 2nd quarter, it was extremely impressive that Calvin Johnson was held to 1 catch for just 7 yards. Considering the performance that he put on in Oakland late last season, such numbers are intriguing to say the least.
- As far as the run defense goes, it was once again a bright spot much like the previous preseason games. The Lions were held to 65 yards on 24 carries for an average of 2.7 yards per carry. The two keys to this run defense just may be the young defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy. Both are becoming more and more recognized throughout the league as stout run defenders, and again showed why that is in this game. Shaughnessy overpowered his man into the backfield several times, effectively blowing up running plays headed for his side of the field. Houston did much of the same, leading the team in tackles with 8, including 2 behind the line of scrimmage.
- The starting offense has continued to move the ball well, only to struggle in finishing those drives. For the second consecutive game, the offense was stopped on 3 consecutive plays from the opposing 1-yard line. However, this time the 4th and goal attempt did result in a touchdown. Some will call for the need for a goal line back, and some will place the blame on Offensive Coordinator, Greg Knapp. Darren McFadden, although most known for his speed, is still one of the more physical runners in the game. That very combination should do nothing but earn him every opportunity for goal line carries. Consider the years when Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, and LaDainian Tomlinson were breaking the NFL single season touchdown records. They were not taken out of the game in goal line situations, and neither should McFadden. When your team has a chance to score, you want the ball in your best player’s hands. In my opinion, these struggles so far are just the product of an entirely new offense being put into place. What we can take from their play so far on a positive note is that, outside of the redzone issue, the ball really is being moved quite well. A few weeks of practice and one preseason game remain before the regular season kicks off. Redzone efficiency will certainly be a focus in both, and should be able to be worked out.
- After struggling in the first two preseason games, Terrelle Pryor took over this game when he got a chance with the second team offense. Not only with his legs, which included 90 yards rushing with a touchdown, but so too with his arm, throwing for 2 big play touchdowns to WR Juron Criner. Considering his well-documented dedication and work ethic, he should continue to improve as his career goes on. With starters typically not playing very much in the final preseason game, we can expect to see him a lot of Terrelle Pryor next week in Seattle.
- One glaring issue so far this preseason, and again in this game, has been the performance of the special teams. In particular, both the kick coverage and kick return units have struggled. It is possible that many players currently playing on those units will not make the final cut of the team, but in any event, it is an area that must be addressed.
- The efforts to tackle the penalty issue took somewhat of a step back in this game, as the Raiders were flagged 9 times for a total of 59 yards. However, we will not know for sure just how disciplined this team will be until we get to the regular season games.
Overall, the third, and often labeled most important preseason game, turned out well for the Raiders. Not so much because of the winning result, but rather the steady improvement that they are showing in various areas of the game. Preseason is supposed to be a tune up for the regular season, and the Raiders seem to be tuning up at a good pace. With the offense starting to move the ball more and more, as well as the new defensive scheme seeming to come together well, Raiders fans should be excited to see what this team can do in a wide open AFC West.
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